Text Features: Engaging Ways to Teach Them

If a piece of text is a destination, text features are the map and the direction signs. While a destination exists on its own, you need to use use a map and signs to get to that destination. While a piece of fiction or informational text exists on its own, text features help you navigate the text for understanding.

Text features are everywhere – from headings and chapter numbers to bibliographies and illustration keys. They’re even relevant online. In fact, navigating webpage text features is a Common Core Standard in elementary school now.

Since they’re so important, students really need to recognize and learn to use text features as soon as they start interacting with them.

In this article, parents and educators will learn:

  • what text features are and why students need to use them often
  • fiction vs. nonfiction text features
  • text features of online informational resources
  • ideas for how to teach text features in the classroom and at home
  • example works to show when teaching

Text Features: What are they and why do they matter?

Functions of text features: organize, navigate, highlight important information.

Text features are any and all parts of a text that are not a direct part of the story or information within the text.

They exist to:

  • organize information
  • add context to a part of the text
  • condense information
  • highlight important parts of a text
  • visually display something
  • help the reader navigate the material

Some Examples:

  • title: tells the reader what they’re going to learn about; helps reader identify the material later on
  • table of contents: tells the reader what information they will find within the material, and where exactly to find it
  • labeled diagrams: offer readers a visual representation of important information that supports an idea or argument, with text that helps the reader understand the visual
  • charts and graphs: offer a condensed visualization of data (and usually, the conclusion that can be drawn using the data)
  • bold words: inform the reader of important terms
  • captions: explain or add onto visual elements such as photos, illustrations, and charts
  • hyperlinks: direct readers to sources related to the content they are currently reading
  • works cited: tells readers where the writer got the information they used in their article, essay, etc.

Related: For more text feature definitions and examples, click here.

Where Students Encounter and Use Text Features

Many examples used in this reading unit are nonfiction works – but you can find text features everywhere!

In Fiction

Many students confuse the elements of a story with the information outside of the story.

Students can identify the difference between story elements and text features by answering the following questions:

  1. Is the feature of the directly related to what’s going on with the story?
  2. Does the feature organize information or help me locate something in the story?

If it is a direct part of the story, such as details or dialogue in the main body of the text, that’s a story element.

If it helps them move through the text, such as chapter or page numbers, that’s a text feature.

Related: This is the secret of teaching students to write effective dialogue.

In Nonfiction

Nonfiction works – such as informational texts, persuasive essays, and autobiographies – contain dates, facts, and/or data to prove a point or relay some truth.

And because things like large data sets and chronological timelines can get messy within the main body of text, authors use text features to help condense and organize that information. It’s all relevant to the main idea or purpose of the text, but it’s not the main focal point, and can be pulled out of the body in a neat way.

Related: What’s the difference between a biography and an autobiography?


Students now encounter features such as web addresses, hyperlinks, and attachments. They have to recognize what these features are, what they do, and how to use them – especially once they start writing research papers.

These features are also designed to makes online reading easier on the eyes.

How to Teach Text Features: Engaging Activities for Students

How to teach text features in a fun way: personal examples, original writing, create original visuals.

You can give students copies of stories and articles and tell them to highlight or label the various text features they encounter, along with with the purpose of each one.

It’s the fastest way to start training their eyes to notice and use things like indexes and glossaries.

But frankly, more paper work can get boring.

So, these are some engaging, accessible activities to teach text features in the classroom and at home.

Students do an individual or group search for examples.

Nothing breaks up the routine of reading and analyzing written works like creating something yourself!

Create a three-column worksheet:

  1. In the first column, create a list of grade-appropriate text features.
  2. In the second, list the definitions and uses of each corresponding feature.
  3. Leave the third column empty.

Print and pass out those worksheets to students, or send a link to the worksheet to each student.

Individually, in pairs, or in groups, have students search for examples of each feature.

If your students are doing this in the classroom, give them newspapers, articles, photos, etc., along with some glue. Have them glue these examples onto their worksheets.

If this is an online activity, have students enter links to their examples, or cut-and-paste images of their examples into their editable worksheet.

Students write their own stories, articles, etc.

Writing about a subject that interests students is a surefire way to get them engaged.

Depending on the grade level, your students can:

  • take “data” from their class through a survey and use that information in a persuasive or informative essay
  • create a chronological timeline depicting the history of something or someone they choose to write about
  • design an infographic to present facts on something they care about
  • write a student blog article that uses online text features
  • create their own mini chapter book, complete with page numbers, chapters, and a table of contents

No matter what they write, specify which text features you want them to include in their work.

Tips for Success

  1. Show examples of text features using shorter texts before you send them off on their own.
  2. Sound out any new terms.
  3. Make sure they understand the purpose of each feature.
  4. Get feedback from students about these engaging activities.

Give your students a good foundation, then let them get creative!